Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Chess in the German POW Camps

Source: Ha'Mashkif, Dec. 20th, 1944, p. 2
As part of our new year's resolution, we hope to finally also get back to speed from the generous amount of material correspondents with us give us. One frequent correspondent had found, looking at old Palestinian and Israeli magazines, quite a lot of interesting material. Here is one of his more interesting finds.

The article is about Jewish soldiers fighting for the British Empire as part of the Palestinian brigade, recently released in a prisoners' exchange from a German military prison camp in Lamsdorf. Amazingly, they do not report mistreatment due to their Jewishness, and their description of camp life does is actually rather humane.

They returned to Palestine with a chess set made in the camp 'by Russian prisoners for the colonel who was the camp commander'. In July 1944 the camp organized a chess league tournament -- a four-man team for each prisoners' nationality -- and the Palestinian team won. They add that the prize, the chess set, was given to them by a British Officer POW with 'apologies from the camp commander', whose 'position and race forbid him from awarding the prize personally'.

The prisoners were lucky to be released when they were. Soon afterwards, as the Red Army approached, the camp was evacuated westward in one of the many notorious 'death marches' during the winter of 1944/1945.

More Chess Book Covers -- Hebrew Language Edition

Image Credit: here.
This time, a book from a rather well known veteran Israeli writer, Eli Netzer, who wrote many books and won several literary prizes. One of his books, Mot Ha'Kanarit (The Death of the Canary), a collection of stories, was published with a chess-themed cover (above). While the cover is hardly meant to be a realistic representation of a chess game, it should be seen that it, too, has the 'dark square in the lower right corner' disease. Then again, perhaps the rules are different for a 4x4 board.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Resolution

Source: here.
My news year resolution: to continue updating this blog more regularly, and finally -- finally -- finish the history work I have been doing for many years.

All I can say in my defense is quote Dr. Samuel Johnson, the author of the famous English dictionary, was praised for the immense amount of work that he put into it. He told Boswell, his biographer, that he was very lazy: he did his dictionary in ten years, while, if he had applied himself regularly, he could have done it in three.

If Sam Johnson could be lazy, I have at least some excuse...

Chess Posters

Source: The NLI
In Israel, it was common until the 1970s (at least) to advertise chess tournaments on posters which were posted on official notice boards in cities. Here is one for the 1969 (15th) Tel Aviv Championship, officially, the Abraham Labounsky memorial tournament. It includes both the "old guard" -- Czerniak, Aloni, Blass, Smiltiner -- and the "new blood", such as Bobis, Stepak, and 'ten talented youths'.

More Games and Updates

Source: Palestine Post, March 16th, 1945, p. 6

As the war was drawing to a close, the Palestine Post (later, the Jerusalem Post) started publishing the first English-language chess column in Palestine since 1918. It covered inter alia the Palestine Championship, then taking place in the "Lasker" club in Tel Aviv. Above is a nice victory by Barav (then Rabinovich, also spelled in English with slight variations) over Aloni. Incidentally, Barav's memorial site, was recently updated. Thanks to Ami Barav for supplying me with the information. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Chess with a Dragon

Source: here
For the "Chess in Art" file, we have the following book by David Gerrold. The book does not in fact feature chess, but uses "chess" as a metaphor for political intrigue between different races in a galaxy.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

IM Ernö Gereben - Emigrating to Israel?

Source: La'Merchav, Oct. 23rd, 1959, p. 2

We have already noted that Ernö (Aharon) Gereben had emigrated to Israel but had not managed to fit in. But when has he emigrated? The answer is given by Eliyahu Fasher above, in a report on the Israeli championship of 1959. Apparently he had emigrated to Israel 'a month before' the tournament, i.e., ca. Sept. 1959.He (playing white) defeated Guti in the position given in the newspaper (click for larger image) with a clever trap. Annotations & punctuations: Fasher.

8... Qa5? 9.Nd2 b5? 10.a4! Ba6 11.axb4! QxR 12.Nb3 QxB 13.QxQ and White has a queen and pawn for a rook and bishop!

Gereben finished second in the championship (after Porat). A year later, a frequent correspondent of ours notes, Gereben was 'not admitted' to the Israeli Olympic team (on which he was willing, 'not being in peak shape', to play 4th board) due to 'his appeal coming late, after the team had been selected.'

The report (below) notes that after the 1959 championship he had 'left the country, [although] appearing as an Israeli in various tournaments abroad'. This makes one suspect that Gereben had never actually intended to settle in Israel, only to play chess in its tournaments, especially as, at the time, he was already settled in Switzerland.

Source: Ha'Boker, Oct. 2nd, 1960, p. 4.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chess and Marie de France's 'Eliduc'

Marie de France (fl. 1160-1215). Credit: Wikipedia.

Chess had often, as the previous post noted, been used in literature. One of the early mentions of chess -- the old game, of course -- in European literature is in Marie de France's Eliduc, a poem about love and betrayal between the hero, Eliduc, his wife Gildeleuc, and his lover, Guilliadon.

The lai (medieval poem about love) includes a short reference to a king who lives in England (where Eliduc arrives) playing chess with his court. According to Eve M. Whittaker (no relation, of course, of the infamous Norman Tweed Whittaker), however, the entire poem is a chess metaphor -- and not only that, but one that connects the philosophical lessons the game teaches in Muslim works to a new Christian outlook,

Her thesis (see previous link) is titled 'Marie de France's Eliduc: The Play of Adventure', published in Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Cultures in Confluence and Dialogue 6 (2000), 3-57. The existence of this work was brought to my attention by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous.

For Eve Whittaker, in Muslim works where the game is a metaphor, it is seen as a metaphor on the correct philosophical way to live, but de France adds a new Christian message, where the game teaches one to reach eternal salvation. Interestingly, she thinks that the poem does not merely mix these two views, but that different parts of the poem are allegories of different parts of the game.

The first part of the poem is an analogy of the opening and middle game -- and that they use chess (as it was played in Europe at the time) to teach lessons about love and life (as in Muslim works). But the later part of the poem is an allegory of the end game -- and teaches how to reach salvation.

I am not sure what to think of Whittaker's conclusions, but it cannot be denied that she does a decent research job acquainting herself with both the rules of the game at the time. Her source is, naturally, Murray, no doubt the single best source for chess at the period.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An Obscure Chess Article

Source: See Below

In the previous post, we mentioned 'The Toys' (הצעצועים - Ha'Tza'a'tzu'im) as an article mentioned in Marmorosh's chess column. Thanks to the Israeli National Library's online archive, the source was found. It is by Yehoshua Reichenzahn (phonetic translation from the Yiddish  יהושע רייצעםזאהן) and is found in the yearbook Knesset Israel, 2nd year (1887), columns 47-64 (each page has two columns) of the 'Useful Section' (Ha'Helek Ha'Shimushi, החלק השימושי) -- the sixth and last part of the yearbook, following the fifth part, the obituaries (p. 1340 on the online scanned version in the link).

The article starts with a very loose translation of chess terms from other languages into Hebrew, relying often on the sound of the word and not its meaning. While some translations make sense (e.g., 'horse' for the knight), he translates the German Bauer (lit. "farmer", i.e., the pawn) as Bor (בור) -- citing the source, the Avoth tractate, where the word (as in modern Hebrew) means 'a hole in the ground', esp. one for keeping water. He also translates Rook as Rach from another Talmudic tractate (Bava Batra) where the word, again as in modern Hebrew, means 'soft' or 'young'.

The main part of the article is a poem, Tachsisey Milchama (תכסיסי מלחמה, 'Strategy') of a battle between the Indian and Persian kings, who are doing battle against each other supported by a mercenary battalion of 'Germans' (the White pieces) or 'Africans' (the Black pieces), respectively. After each move by either side there is a four-line quatrain describing the move, its purpose, what it threatens, etc., ending with White checkmating the Persian king on, in modern notation, the 25th move (the 45th half-move). In this, the poem reminds one of Jacob Eichenbaum's Ha'Krav (הקרב, 'The Battle') (Odessa, 1839 -- see Keats' Chess in Jewish History and Hebrew Literature, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1995, pp. 232ff).

Apart from this, the article has chess problems ('The German [White] wins in one move', for example) and another game, this time between Zechariah, a Jewish merchant, and 'The Master', a gentile nobleman. who meet in a tavern. The game is given, as well as the conversation between the two. Zechariah, of course, wins, but The Master declares that he cheated and has his servants beat him. In a combination of remorse and shame, The Master ambushes Zechariah in the field as he leaves town, kills him, then shoots himself!

The article seems very obscure. It is not mentioned in Keats, nor have I found it anywhere else except for its mention in the introduction before the start of Marmorosh's first chess column (see previous post). As this introduction refers to Marmorosh in the third person as the 'player who will edit the column', it was probably not written by Marmorosh himself. One wonders who was the scholar who wrote the introduction, mentioning this obscure source as well as others.